Learning about Yourself through Interactions with Others
Whether it’s a conversation or a confrontation, you can learn a lot about yourself through your interaction with others. This became very clear to me during a polite but futile conversation with a local grocery store manager.
I’ve bought almost all my groceries from the same Winn-Dixie store for almost 20 years. It’s 2 miles from home and I pass it on my way to and from work every day. The prices have risen a bit in the past year due to the cost of food items, and then they rose quite a bit more after the store re-modeled. Unfortunately, as a loyal customer, I’ve become disenchanted and have started using them much like a convenience store–pay the higher prices but it’s quick and easy when I run out of toilet paper at 10:39 PM on Friday and have weekend guests.
But here’s what I learned about myself from this one trivial experience:
After almost 2 decades of loyalty, I’ve found myself frequenting more inconvenient grocery stores or stopping in at Fresh Market or Walmart when I’ve over in Destin on an errand anyway and have already paid for gas and the toll bridge. Why? Because the milk–which I need once or twice a week–is often bad within a day of buying it and sometimes bad when I open it as soon as I get home. With a teen who guzzles it, that’s a big deal.
I’ve bought thousands of jugs of milk at this store over the past two decades. When 3 of the past 5 jugs of milk have been bad, then it’s a problem.
Realizing that my grocery shopping habits have changed because of sour milk, I decided that I still liked Winn-Dixie and their management enough to let them know. I’ve told them about the milk before and they’ve offered a refund if I’d bring back the carton but I’ve just rolled my eyes at that. I don’t keep sour milk around and I don’t have time to haul it back to the store if I did. The last time, I got home and was so sick with allergies that I didn’t shop for almost 3 weeks. Just too danged inconvenient.
But I learned a lot about myself from my brief conversation with a manager. The conversation was pleasant but she immediately launched into all the excuses or possible reasons why and how it happens at lots of stores and her own personal experience with it.
Hmmm. Strange. I wasn’t interested at all in WHY the milk was bad or HOW OFTEN it happens elsewhere or WHOSE FAULT (vendors) it was. I’m pretty sure my eyes started to glaze over during this part of the conversation.
Then she offered me a refund or a gift card and reminded me that they’re always willing to refund. She was really very, very nice about it.
Hmmm. Strange. The refund offer didn’t make any difference to me, even though it was certainly owed me. My time is worth more than the $2.49 to $3.99 a container to unpack a jug of sour milk, serve it to houseguests, pack it back up, leave my guests, drive back to the grocery store, stand in line, explain the situation, and get another jug of milk that might be bad, too. She kept offering her loyal customer a refund but she was missing the point, I realized, and ended the conversation. I wasn’t interested in the MONEY aspect of it.
What I realized rather suddenly was that I was interested in THE PROBLEM BEING FIXED so I wouldn’t have to deal with sour milk again. It became clear quickly that my conversation would not accomplish that. The solution, for the store, was to offer a refund, not to fix the problem or even to investigate beyond assigning fault or accepting that sour milk just happens sometimes. If I buy sour milk, yes, I can get a refund, but there’s no effort at all to ensure that my time will not be wasted. That is an aspect of customer service that matters much to me.
I won’t fault someone for the problems they’ve made in the past and it’s completely up to them if they choose to continue with the same problems, but they don’t have to be a part of my world. In fact, this is an excellent metaphor for all the negative people who move in and out of our lives. If your milk is sour and you do nothing about it but make excuses or tell me I have to accept it when I interact with you, then I’ll nourish myself elsewhere.